Technology reshaping classrooms

Margaret Hurt
Special to The Black Mountain News

Friday is Ethan Lassman favorite day of the week.

A kindergarten student in Terri Covington’s class at Black Mountain Primary, Ethan gets to go to”digital” and play Starfall, a game in which he uses a computer mouse to pick out letters.

Not only is the game colorful and fun, it is also helping reinforce what he is learning in the classroom. In the process, it is putting 5-year-old Ethan on the path to understanding how to use computers for learning. Ethan visits the digital learning lab weekly, just as he does for music, art and physical education.

From digital applications accessed in class to tablets provided to students and learning labs, today’s students are becoming adept at comprehending the capabilities of technology. Schools seek to prepare students for a diverse, global society and give students knowledge needed to learn effectively and live productively in an increasingly global and digital world.

In recent years, the technology climate at schools is seeing significant changes. The Bring Your Own Device policy implemented by Buncombe County Schools means students can use of their own phones, iPods and tablets to complement classroom work, when approved by teachers. Each school determines its own policy, according to Cindy Sturdivant, Owen Middle School’s media and technology specialist.

“But most teachers let students use their device at appropriate times during class,” she said. “I feel it’s a very helpful tool for students; when they bring their own device, they are leaning to use it as an educational tool instead of as a toy.”

On a daily basis, a student might use his device to research a topic on the web, use a QR code to open an application needed for a book trailer program. She might then to create a video to summarize a book she just read. Another student might use a device to prepare a digital graph in math.

When necessary, students without devices are paired with those who have them. Students may also check out devices from the school’s media center.

Media center staff members in schools assist by coming into classrooms to instruct. Or classes go to a media center to learn how to do a digital aspect of project. All schools have computer labs now.

A new phased initiative, the Buncombe County Schools One on One Digital Learning Initiative, will put devices in the hands of students in the fourth to 12th grades (fourth- to sixth-graders will receive devices — at no cost — as early as January and will likely include a Windows-based tablet for each student.

This initiative, paid for with capital funds, is meant to ensure students are actively engaged in the so-called STEM classes (science, technology, engineering and math).

“I feel this will even the playing field for personal devices,” Sturdivant said. “Devices will be checked out to the student in homeroom and returned to charging station at end of school day.”

Owen Middle School has seen a sharp shift in technology, thanks to an IMPACT V Grant, a two-year state grant that directed federal dollars to schools. To be considered for the grant, which paid for technology devices and staff development, four OMS teachers had to commit to begin a masters degree program in instructional technology.

As technology moved into the curricula, the entire culture began to change at the middle school. Smartboards, laptops and iPads became teaching tools.

“With more technology-trained staff members, we can accomplish so much more at our school,” Sturdivant said.

Career and technology teacher Amanda Venturella at Owen Middle works with sixth- through eighth-grade students to create a regular digital edition of the school news. With her assistance, students use flip video cameras and smart phones to get footage, then employ Google Drive to store and share the video. They use the app Camtasia to edit video and Windows Movie Maker to edit clips and produce the entire news edition.

As a group, the students edit footage on the Smartboard and then add royalty-free music before showing their video in all homeroom classes to students and staff. Their work is posted on the school’s website, and on Facebook and YouTube.

Several schools in Buncombe County have 3D printers. At Owen Middle, where it’s been used since the start of the school year, it’s helping support classroom and curriculum needs. Recent uses include a Swannanoa Valley topographical map, as well as a DNA model for eighth-grade classes. Students who are part of the Maker Monday after-school club use it.

“It’s getting our students excited about technology, to see the cool ways we can use it,” Sturdivant said.